Poetry, Official Palace Language of Wow: Another Gem from Thanks Help Wow

IMG_1595On an ice-glazed morning, today’s reading thaws my cockles. Thanks again, Annie L:

When all is said and done, spring is the main reason for Wow. Spring is crazy, being all hope and beauty and glory. She is the resurrection. Spring is Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” 

Buds opening and releasing, mud and cutting winds, bright green grass and blue skies, nests full of baby birds. All of these are deserving of Wow—even though I have said elsewhere that spring is also about deer ticks—and everywhere you look, couples are falling in love, and the air is saturated with the scent of giddiness and doom. Petals are wafting and falling slowly through the air, and there is something so Ravel, languorous, reminding me to revel in the beauty of things wafting.

Only two months to crocuses.

spring
spring

My Next Right Thing This Morning

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I had a writing professor who recommended copying, literally, tangibly, work by authors whose style most lights your writing fuse. Pick an author, prop open a book, lay it next to the laptop, and type the words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters until, I suppose, some sort of osmosis (and muscle memory?) occurs. The professor is more a hardboiled fiction guy, so Elmore Leonard is an author whose dialogue, voice, rhythm, pace, and word choice he might be likely to transcribe in this exercise. When I finally get around to trying it for literary purposes, you’ll find me with David Mitchell or Anne Lamott next to my computer.

But this morning, the following words from the book open on my lap begged for this transcription treatment. In an attempt to absorb the heart of the words into my cells, I will type them out here. I hope it works. Today, it’s my next right thing.

Lord, you have assigned me my portion, and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices [my tongue rejoices? what does that even look like? how does that sound? it’s on me to figure it out!]; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.*

*Psalm 16:5-11

Do Acts of Social Justice Count if They’re Compensated? Or am I just a goat?

Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

   I was hungry and you fed me, 
   I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, 
   I was homeless and you gave me a room, 
   I was shivering and you gave me clothes, 
   I was sick and you stopped to visit, 
   I was in prison and you came to me.'”

So I’ve been talking a big game about seeking God in the eyes of “the least of these.” More and more, I’m convinced that believers must vacate their circles of folding chairs to find Christ, not in a book or by exercising our well toned self-scrutiny muscles, but in the eyes of those for whom Jesus had a heart while he walked the planet. The poor in spirit, the poor in pocket, the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the cold, the sick, the imprisoned. And so like any good action-oriented American, I’ve decided to hunt for an appropriate outlet in my community — food pantries, missions for international adoptions, mentorships to teen mothers — since ain’t no alleys here in the most affluent county in America in which to find God. 

And then a job dropped in my lap. Out of the blue. Helping the blind. Now, Jesus seemed particularly compassionate toward the blind. They didn’t make the Matthew 25 list, no, but I’m thinking they count as overlooked.

My friend Bubba pointed out that it’s (my church) “Grace’s social justice orientation with legs.” But does it count as sheep status if I get paid to help the visually impaired find work? And what does it say about my heart that I’m crestfallen that the job isn’t what I asked for? See, I’ve been looking for steady writing work and recently made the short list for a high-paying position with a prestigious advertising firm. I’ve been seeking a glamorous job while looking for an extracurricular least-of-these application to satisfy my requirement to find and serve Jesus.

So my question is this. Do acts of social justice count if the doer receives a paycheck for those acts? 

 41-43“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because— 

   I was hungry and you gave me no meal, 
   I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 
   I was homeless and you gave me no bed, 
   I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, 
   Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

 44“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

 45“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.'”

Am I a goat? Am I a sheep? Will I see Jesus in the eyes of the blind? Because I really want to see Jesus. That’s what drives me to do anything good.

Jesus wasn’t in my Bible this morning (but he was on my porch)

So, like the good evangelical Christian woman I never was, I made myself go to a quiet place to exercise the spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer. Coffee cup in hand, I settled into the comfy brown chair on my screened porch feeling the warmth of the morning sun on my face. I swatted the familiar gnat-like fog of guilt that hovers around the veil and obscures my earthly vision. I strained to see the divine, prayed, “Please help,” and turned to Scripture.

See, I’ve recently returned to the fold of Wednesday morning women’s Christianity after months of wandering in the wilderness with Traci, a writer friend of mine who’s also an atheist. I’m happy to be back, but a fish out of water feeling surprises me. The thoughts I had and documented on our project seem to have taken root in my gut. Turns out the experience really did change me and the way I approach and experience God and traditional Bible study.

This morning when I sat down to study and pray in the old way, I had that fleeting feeling of frustration and distance from God, the sense that I’m just not spiritual enough, I’m not doing something right. When I cried out to him, the darndest thing happened. Jesus spoke. He said to me, “I’m not in there.”
“Huh?” I said.
“I’m in the streets. I’m at Wheeler Mission. I’m in the trailers where children hide from hurt and homes where families go hungry this very moment. I am the battered women at Third Phase where women go for food and a fresh start. Encourage them, feed their babies, and you encourage and feed me.”
“So, wow. Those impressions you gave me back on the Beth and Traci thing weren’t just sensationalism? Not just entertaining and provocative writing points?”
“No, dear, they were my truth. If you want to see me, go to those places. If you want to store my words in your heart, do dive into my word. But remember, I am the Word. Don’t feel bad if you don’t see and feel me when you open those pages. I’ll touch you through the words as the Counselor wills. But remember what you read in that book Amy Lickliter gave you?”
“Yeah, what was that called?”
God in the Alley.”
“Oh, that’s right. Thanks for reminding me.”
“You’re welcome. Yes, your brother Greg Paul wrote the truth that I want you and others blessed by suburban comforts to know and act upon — that you are to be and see Me in a broken world.”

Ahh, what sweet relief that the Word is Jesus. The word — God’s word, He was sweet to remind me, is a double-edged sword, living and active. But it is not He. He never says, “I am the Bible.”

I need to see Jesus, immerse myself in my beloved, radical Savior by going to –NO, by seeking out the hurting, broken, hungry, imprisoned, poor, disenfranchised, unlovely and unlovable. Immerse myself in them.

Be Him for — and see Him in — “the injured,” emotionally or physically, and the spiritually and physically hungry.


Moses’s Cojones and Bogus Cred

Reading A.W. Tozer’s “Pursuit of God” for a Wednesday night study at Grace (yes, Traci, I couldn’t resist the pull), I’m struck this week by scripture passages I’ve read dozens of times. First of all, I’m moved by how earnest and bold Moses was in pleading with God for the validation and benediction he needed. Without apology, he pled just short of demanding, crying to God out of a sense of desperation. He wasn’t feeling centered and laid it out before this God he really didn’t grow up knowing. 

Exodus 33:12-13 Moses said to God, “Look, you tell me, ‘Lead this people,’ but you don’t let me know whom you’re going to send with me. You tell me, ‘I know you well and you are special to me.’ If I am so special to you, let me in on your plans. That way, I will continue being special to you. Don’t forget, this is your people, your responsibility.”

 14 God said, “My presence will go with you. I’ll see the journey to the end.”

 15-16 Moses said, “If your presence doesn’t take the lead here, call this trip off right now. How else will it be known that you’re with me in this, with me and your people? Are you traveling with us or not? How else will we know that we’re special, I and your people, among all other people on this planet Earth?”

 17 God said to Moses: “All right. Just as you say; this also I will do, for I know you well and you are special to me. I know you by name.”

 18 Moses said, “Please. Let me see your Glory.”

And God responds (humors? gives in?) to the boldness of a child who is feeling pretty aimless and worried.

And then, in reading in Philippians 3:4-14 about how Paul trashed his own “credentials,” all the facets of his identity that used to make him who he was, I realized how the credentials I used to try to accumulate and fell so short of attaining – weren’t really credentials at all. I used to be motivated by “religious busybodies, all bark and no bite…knife-happy circumcisers.” Who needs ’em?! I don’t! I just need to move forward. “Off and running, no turning back.”

 2-6Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.

 7-9The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

 10-11I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.

Focused on the Goal

 12-14I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.